The End of an Era: The Compaq Center by Joemon James

Highway 59 at Buffalo Speedway (between the South Loop and Downtown)
10 Greenway Plaza
Houston, TX 77046
Phone: (713) 627-9470

January 2004–When people think of an arena, they generally just think of some random sporting event.However, the Compaq Center has hostedmore than just random events; it has hosted history-making games that will live on in the memories of fans forever. For over 20 years, the Compaq Center has been a key ingredient in Houston’s sports and entertainment industry.

The Compaq Center, formerly known as the Summit, opened in 1975. It has 17,000 seats, 20 luxury suites, and hosts approximately 2 million patrons that attend an average of 190 sports and entertainment events per year. This arena has served as a host for Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sesame Street Live, Harlem Globetrotters, Disney on Ice, live professional boxing and wrestling, and concerts by today’s leading entertainers.

In addition, it was in this very building that the Houston Rockets won the first major championship for any sport in the city’s history.Before that momentous event occurred, there was hardly ever a conversation that mentioned the Rockets as title contenders or gave any respect to Houston as being capable of hosting a championship team. However, as the 1993-1994 season began, the Rockets went on a 14-game winning streak and finished with the 2nd best record in the league. A sense of excitement filled the air as the city could smell its first championship.

Whenever you saw the Compaq Center, you would think of the city’s championship destiny. Everywhere you looked you would see people walking around with Rockets shirts and a new sense of pride for the city of Houston. The electricity during the games at the Summit was unmatched. Even during the introduction of the starting line-ups, the crowd was pumped. The announcer would shut off the lights so that it would be nearly pitch black. As soon as that happened everyone knew to expect those famous words: “Alright Houston, on your feet, and prepare for a Rocket’s lift off!” Those words would breathe new life into the crowd and help to propel the Rockets to victory. The crowd was always into the game.

In game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals, everyone held their breath when Vernon Maxwell shot a 3-pointer as the Rockets lead was in jeopardy. Everyone jumped up with excitement when the shot went in. When they finally won the championship, the Summit exploded with celebration. Nearly everyone in the crowd had some kind of Rockets shirt on that showed team spirit and promoted victory. The Rockets’ logo in the middle of the court seemed to glow even brighter, until it seemed to have disappeared under the sea of celebrating people that rushed onto the court.

Nearly a decade later, I went to a Rockets’ game in that very same arena. A lot had changed since the championship years. The team had a completely different look, with a lot of young players and different uniforms. In addition, the arena was no longer called the Summit. Instead, it was now called the Compaq Center.

The area right outside of the seating area seemed sort of like a mall. There were a lot of teenagers walking around wearing “throw-back” jerseys and Nike Air Force One’s. It kind of seemed like an 80’s flashback with a new millennium, hip-hop twist to it. In addition to the familiar concession stands, there were now clothing stores where people could buy athletic apparel and other articles of clothing that promoted professional sports teams. It seemed that the business owners were trying hard to appeal to the younger generation of sports fans. There were also many familiar fast food chains, such as TCBY, Pizza Hut, and Whataburger, located inside the arena.

As walked to my seat, I noticed that everything seemed a little older and worn out. It still seemed like a quality arena, just a little old. The arena was still big, but not as huge as it seemed to be when I was younger. When I got to my seat, I noticed that there was a little kid sitting in the seat behind me. He was completely covered in Rockets’ gear. He was probably about the same age I was when the Rockets won their first championship. This little kid was screaming and cheering at the top of his lungs for the Rockets, even though he was in the cheap seats that were all the way at the top. I guess that he was a true fan. As I looked up, I caught sight of the championship banners and retired jerseys that were hanging from the rafters. It seemed to add some mystique to the building.

Although sporting events are what made the Compaq Center famous, they are not the only things that have made it a special place. The Compaq Center is also home to the graduation ceremonies of every high school in the Fort Bend Independent School District, so I had one of the most important events of my life take place at this building. Walking into the building at that point in time had a much different feeling to it. As I walked inside, I saw thousands of people celebrating their graduation with their families. It was a sight that I knew I would be a part of very soon. I also experienced being “part of the show” for the first time at the Compaq Center. Instead of walking into the seating section like I would usually do, I took the escalator down to the ground floor and took my seat behind a closed curtain. I noticed a lot of happy and excited faces (420 to be exact). Everyone was wearing a navy blue colored cap and gown. Many of the students sitting in the first few rows had extra medallions and cords to wear with their cap and gown. Students who were magna cum luade wore double banded gold cords, and cum laude wore single banded gold cords. Students that were in DECA had a gold vest to wear with their cap and gown, while those in the National Honor Society had white vests. In addition, students who were recognized as Texas scholars had gold medals around their necks. It seemed to symbolize the victory of students overcoming all of the obstacles and being able to graduate high school.

The graduates sitting in the first few rows were seated according to their class rank. The first row was for magna cum laude, or the top 5% of the class. The next two rows were for cum laude, or the top 10% of the class. Everyone else was seated alphabetically in the rows behind that. Before we actually made our way onto the main floor, everyone looked at the paper on the wall which said where we were supposed to sit. I was on the right side, row one, and seat 17. People were walking around behind the curtain, while hugging and congratulating each other. Some people where pacing back and forth because they just couldn’t wait for the ceremony to begin.

Everyone was full of laughter, smiles, and some tears of joy. A lot of people felt very happy that they were graduating high school, but had some sadness within them because it was one of the last times that they would get to see many of their friends. Soon they would all go off to different colleges, meet new people, begin new jobs, and enter the real world. Many of them saw it as a bittersweet moment. After a while, the principal told everyone to sit in the same order as the paper on the wall said. We all made our way to the seats that are normally used to seat the audience. A lot of people actually thought that those were going to be our actual seats during the ceremony. However, it was only meant to show everyone the exact order in which they would be seated so that there would not be any confusion when we made our way out to the main floor.

As the ceremony was about to begin, everyone started to stand up and walk almost in unison toward the curtain. It was like introducing the cast of a very large play to an even larger audience. Walking through the curtains and onto the main floor where thousands of memorable events in the city’s history have occurred felt different and strange. However, it was proud and special moment for everyone in attendance. The look of pride and joy on the faces of all of the parents and relatives showed that this moment was also a cherished part of their lives. Everyone in the audience seemed to be intent on celebrating a major milestone. We all walked in a large procession from the left and right sides of the arena. Each row was lead and followed by a faculty member wearing a black cap and gown. They seemed like tour guides showing tourists around the building. We walked all the way to the end of the last row, then toward the middle aisle, up towards the front again, and took our seats in our respective rows. The ceremony began with the presentation of the flags and the singing of the national anthem. There were some speeches given, just as in every graduation ceremony, and then everyone had the opportunity to participate in the crowning moment of their high school career; walking across the stage. It seemed like everyone was cheering for everyone else. The people in the crowd went wild with cheers and horns as everyone made their way across the stage and onto begin the rest of their lives.

The Compaq Center was known for that kind of excitement and spirit, no matter what kind of event was being held there. It has been the home of many important and memorable moments in the lives of millions of individuals and the entire city as a whole. However, these events would be some the last ever of their kind held at the Compaq Center before the new ownership took over. It was now time to retire the Compaq Center. The Rockets and all of the other teams and events that viewed the Compaq Center as home will now move into a new arena. Lakewood Church, the new owner of the Compaq Center, will now hold its services here every Sunday. It is fitting that this building will remain a gathering place for thousands of people to socialize and express faith in something. However, every time I drive by the Compaq Center, I can still hear the cheers of joy that united the city nearly a decade earlier. Perhaps some new memories will be created in this next chapter of Houston’s history.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s